March 28, 2006

Here is the tagger's sig file... Posted by Picasa

Our house, well, our fence actually, was tagged by the knitting taggers. It happened on St Pat's day. Here is the tag. Posted by Picasa

We looked at Art while in NYC. Here is a photo of 3,000,000 plastic cups set up to look like a landscape. It was pretty darned amazing. It was selling for $350,000. Here is a review. Posted by Picasa

We were in New York City this weekend. Here we are at Rockerfeller Center Posted by Picasa

March 19, 2006

Chez George

We went to the New Chez Georges last night – the one that is now on lower Westheimer. It is in the space where Aldo’s was before they closed. They have been open since Valentine ’s Day, so we figured that the kinks would be worked out by now. We were not disappointed.

We had reservations at 7:00 PM for four of us. We were the first to arrive, and dropped our car off with the valet. I am no fan of valet parking, but they really don’t have too much space available. We would have walked over, but it started to rain just as we walked out our back gate. So we hopped in the car and got there tout d’suite and were greeted by a friendly American hostess.

There were only about three tables occupied (out of about ten, maybe? I didn’t go into the back room or upstairs. It is not a huge place) and we chose a nice big four-top in the quiet main room. The room had been renovated nicely, with some of the wood being restored to just wood, and the coffers in the ceiling being painted in contrasting colors. The overall effect was quite calming.

While we were waiting for our friends, we luxuriated over the great wine list. The presentation was wonderful – one wine per page with the label pasted to said page. I talked to the sommelier and she said that they liked this presentation even though it took up more space. The selection was great, too. They had, of course, the Grand Crus at hundreds of dollars per bottle. But they also had a nice selection of lesser known wines from around France, including some nice white burgundies and red Bordeaux.

We started off with a bottle of a Roederer NV Brut Rose just as our friends walked in. They were happy with the selection, and we all relaxed and enjoyed the friendly ambiance as we chatted and started looking at the menu.

They then brought over a little amuse bouche, Frog Legs wrapped in paper. Oh! If we could have had a plate of those little hoppers! Succulent, tender, and a bit greasy, just the way frog’s legs should be served. They went perfectly with the Champaign, and we knew we would be in for a nice treat.

We were trying to decide what we would be eating from a rather simple menu – starters and main courses, about eight of each. It is apparent that the philosophy is offer great food that you have the right stuff to make. There is a statement somewhat to that effect on the menu. Personally, I am all for that sort of a plan. (I once mistakenly ordered mussels in an Italian place on Richmond and was served something that turned my stomach.)

As we chatted and ate, we also picked our food. We had a nice selection, with only two duplicates. To start with we had the Chef’s pâté (a country pâté), the scallop salad, oysters in puff pastry and the pâté de fois gras (that was mine) My pâté was served with a warm brioche, and it was great. My wife had the oyster, and I had a taste of one. Tremendous – buttery, salty, and soft – no overcooked. I did not try the other two appetizers, but based on the reception they received, I think that there were no complaints.

Then on to the main course. We had two bottles of wine ordered, a red (a 2000 Bordeaux Haut Brisson) and a white (A Jadot Montrachet, but I don’t know which one). Our Bordeaux was an excellent choice for what we ordered – I had the veal filet and veal sweetbreads in a reduction sauce. My mouth is watering as I write this. I had a small potato gallette, and some baby spinach. A great combination. I am a sucker for sweetbread, but they too often come out overcooked and chewy. These would melt in your mouth, and you knew why they were called sweet-breads.

My sweet ever-lovin’ had the Filet Mignon. She said it was good – that is a piece of meat that ends up being tender and tasty when you have the right sauce (which I believe she did). Our friends had the salmon (which looked great) and another order of the veal.

Dessert was profiteroles and another ice creamy treat, as well as a couple of cheese plates. A very nice way to end the dinner.

The only real downside was that the water glasses got awfully low before they were refilled, and occasionally I was wondering if my wine glass would go empty (it never did).

Overall, the ambiance was lovely (quiet and calm, especially compared to Dolce Vita down the street) food was great, and wine selection was superb. We will be going back.

Oh wait. The damages? $460 total with tip – but that did include $190 worth of wine. Well worth it.

March 17, 2006

St Patrick's Day

I live a block away from an Irish Sports Bar.

Today is St Patrick’s Day.

Ordinarily this bar is not too crowded. It is as close to a neighborhood bar that Houston has to offer without being an Icehouse (more on Icehouses by and by). It is owned by the staff, and I always fear that they are about to go out of business. They have bands three or four times a year, and we stop in for burgers or wings maybe a half dozen times a year.

We don’t go in on St Patrick’s Day.

First of all, they charge a cover. Second, it is really crowded. Third, it is filled with a bunch of green drunks!

I always enjoyed the St Pat’s day festivals that I visited in the past (did you know that St Pat was an engineer?) and always had my share of green beer and sang my share of Irish songs.

I guess I am getting too old. And not being Irish, it just seems like a lot more trouble than it is worth.

But, unlike other festivals, I don’t begrudge the participants their fun. They usually don’t break anything, they tend to vomit in the streets and not on my lawn, and the music stops at 10:00.

What could be better?

Pass me if you can.

I drive about 18 miles one way to work. Because I have a ‘reverse commute” I am able to drive fast and watch traffic ebb and flow (as in the story below). One thing that has become apparent to me, however, is that people HATE to be passed.

I understand that it is bad when someone passes you and then they slow down. Or someone passes you, and then get in the right lane in front of you and don’t turn right, thereby keeping YOU from making a right turn.

No, I am talking about people that are just poking along on the freeway, and then try to speed up as you pull along side them (usually on their right, of course). These are people that invariably think that they are in the right (I was doing the speed limit!) and yet no doubt cause more accidents and road rage than any slipshod lane changing without signaling fool.

The other day I was getting on the freeway (before my entrance because two full lanes again) and I zipped by a fellow in a pick up truck (who was dawdling) and he flipped me off! I mean really. Did he need to touch his brakes? No. Did he need to swerve to miss me? No. All he had to do was keep his foolish hands on his wheel and get his tiny mind behind the fact that my car was faster than his. No value judgment, just a fact.

What a loser.

Speed Sting

Every Friday we have donuts in the office. Usually our sales guy buys them, but today he was out of town (selling something, I hope) so I picked them up. I get a dozen glazed and dozen mixed. It is nice to have variety.

I met someone I had not seen in 20 years at the donut shop, but that is not really the subject of this entry. I pull out of the strip center and headed over to the freeway (my beloved US 59, entered via Spur 529). There was a motorcycle cop waiting at the light to get on, and I pulled in behind him.

We all got up to speed and bunched around d behind the policeman. One dopey guy started to pass the cop, and he just made a downward motion with his hand to have the guy slow down. Slow down he did, and the cop eased over to the right lane and took the next exit.

Of course, as soon as he took the exit, two cars – one a brand new BMW 750Li and the other a late model Lexus took off like a scalded cat. You have to realize that the average speed of this freeway, as we are going against traffic, is probably 75 mph. The speed limit is 60 (which see). So these jokers were feeling hemmed in.

But from my viewpoint, I could see a drama unfolding. This is one of those exits where you can get off the freeway, and then immediately back on without going through a stoplight or crossing a road. The cop was just watching the freeway, and keeping pace with these two cars. He had a plan

And he jumped back on the freeway without and further adieu, popped his lights, and fell in behind the BMW. Poor dumb fellow. He didn’t know what hit him. AND HE SHOULD HAVE!!!

He got a ticket.

March 5, 2006

David Bromberg in Conroe

I first heard David Bromberg when I was living in Kemmerer, WY. I was working for the Kemmerer Coal Company (now owned by Pittsburgh Midway. See a satellite image of the mine here.). This was in 1978. Well, I didn’t hear him live, but I was introduced to him on vinyl. It was his David Bromgberg:Wanted Dead or Alive! album. I fell in love with his music almost instantly. I mean, anyone who can sing a song about a fellow who killed his girlfriend, and then pleads with the judge to give him the death penalty, and make you LIKE it. (Send me to the ’lectric chair.“I said Judge, Judge, Mr Sirica, PLEASE!”) as well as a song about how he should be happy, but somehow he has the blues (Someone Else’s Blues) has my vote.

I first saw David Bromberg perform with his large band in a converted church in Madison called (cleverly enough) The Church Key. I am not sure if it is still open, but it was a great venue. It was inexpensive, and you had a great view from most of the pews. I frequently saw a band called ‘Out of the West with Beverly Jean” which was sort of a local Cosmic Cowboy band. Once when Jerry Jeff Walker was in town for another gig, he sat in with OOTWWBJ. So did The Amazing Rhythm Aces.

When Bromberg performed in a small venue, and that venue was a bar, it was a wonderful experience. Whenever he looked at the crowd, you felt as if he was looking straight at you. I am not sure how he did it, but everyone I talked to experienced the same thing. He put on quite a show, with talking, laughing, singing, and performing. He is one of the best stringed instrument players that I have ever seen.

I saw him at least two other times in Madison, I think that both of those time he was playing at a purpose built facility called Headliners that was next door to The Church Key. Bromberg would walk on the tables while playing and singing. It was quite an experience.

I moved to Houston in 1980, and back then Bromberg and his band was still touring. I saw him at Fitzgerald’s at least once, and at Rockefeller’s at least twice. Sometimes he would have his big band, sometimes his small band, and one time I even saw him with a gospel choir. On one of his trips here is had the flu, and yet the show went on. One of the local music reviewers mentioned it, and it made him mad.

How do I know? I ran into him at a local BBQ place the next time he was in town. I introduced myself to him and told him how much we enjoyed all his shows. He started complaining about the reviewer (I think it was Marty Racine) whom he said gave him the review. I found that review (see it here). It was not bad, but then memory plays tricks. (Bromberg opened for Arlo Guthrie! Talk about inversion!)

So that gets us to recent times. Last December (or so) I was listening to our local Pacifica station (KPFT) which does some local music especially on Saturday. One of the DJs (your friend and mine) Larry Winters mentioned that Bromberg would be coming to the Historic Crighton Theatre in Conroe. Now, Conroe, TX is about 50 miles from my house, but it only took about 10 minutes for me to decide I needed to see David again. (The last time I saw him was the night the US attacked Iraq – the FIRST time. It was January 16, 1991! Way too long)

Of course, the first person I thought to call was my old buddy David Chandler. He and I had gone to many concerts, and have had many adventures. Some were even fun! He agreed that he and his new wife would be glad to come. So I bought tickets and we waited.

The wait was over yesterday when we finally made the long trip up to Conroe and the music. David had called Larry Winters and asked for a place that we might grab a bite before the show. He suggested a small taqueria near downtown Conroe. We drove up with the sketchiest of directions (across the street from the Donut Wheel) and amazingly enough found ourselves in front of (a quite empty) Taqueria Vallarta.

We have never been a group to shy away from new food, so we walked in. They were obvisouly setting themselves up for a party, and we sort of walked over to the emptier side of the room. Then a fellow came up to us, all smiles and introduced himself. “Hi! I’m Larry Brown!” We all though he was the manager of the place (and an unlikely one at that) as we said hello in turn. “So it’s y’all’s birthday today?” He asked. Uh, no. OH, he then told us that they were having a birthday party for anyone whose birthday was in March. It was free, and we were welcome to join, birthday or not. He said that they eat, drink, and then go dancing. He pointed at Doreen’s strappy sandals (very cool, by the way) and said “Those just won’t do.” We all laughed, thanked him, and went to sit down. This is why one loves small towns.

We ordered and ate. The food was good, the service was well intentioned. We finally made it out the door and over to the theatre. They had Main Street blocked off in front of the place, and after picking up our tickets, we milled about outside.

The theatre itself was quite nice. Built in the 1930s, renovated in the 70s. The seating was good, the sight lines were good. After several introductions (including one by Larry Winters) James McMurtry got onstage.

James in Larry’s kid. He is a good guitar player, but man! Is he a downer or what!

After a 40 minute set, there was a 15 minute break and Bromberg got on (All times were strictly adhered to. Unlike in my youth when a 10:00 pm concert seldom started before 11:00)

Bromberg was playing with his quartet, which was (nominally) a violin, David on guitar, a bass guitar, and mandolin. I say nominally because everyone but the bass player would change instruments with some frequency.

They played one set, about an hour and forty minutes. It was all great. There were instrumental pieces, “Bad women done him wrong” pieces (the staple of the Bromberg oeuvre) and several of his older classics like “Summer Wages”, “The New Lee Highway Blues”, and (thank you!) “Sharon” (Whoa whoa whoa Sharon! What do you do t ho these men?)

It was a great show. If he comes to your town, go see him.

I graduated Phi Beta goddamned Kappa from THAT school!

March 3, 2006

The most important part of espresso making is the grinder

Several weeks ago I decided that I need a new grinder. It is not that my current grinder (a six year old Rocky) is failing, it is just that I felt I needed to take the whole process up another notch. So I started to do some research, and as always I was led to CoffeeGeek, Alt.Coffee, and various other random websites.

To recap, my coffee history goes something like this: (skip to the *******s if you want to get right to the review of the grinder. Here in Texas, we feel you need some back story before you jump right in. Think of it as foreplay)

Back in 1999 I stayed in an apartment that had a La Pavoni Europiccola. I thought it made the best coffee I ever had. So when I got home, I decided to get one, and bought it from Italy Direct. I played with that great machine for a while, and decided that the beans I was using (Starbucks. Sure, go ahead and scoff if you want, but the fact is that Starbucks has done a very good job of introducing a lot of people to the fact that you can get better coffee than Folgers.) at the time.

Making a long story short, La Pavoni led me to a Hearthware Precision, which led me to a Silvia/Rocky combination, which led me to an Alpenröst, which led me to an Isomac Rituale, which led me to a Hottop, which lead me to last week. That was six years in 45 words.

So I started looking at ways to improve on what I thought was a pretty good thing. And the most obvious point that I came up with was a new grinder.

Of course, if you read anything about grinders, you will feel that you need a couple of things. First is a big stinking motor, second is a stepless adjustment, and third is chrome. (I made that up.) All three things point in one direction – The Mazzer Mini.

So I started searching and searching for a good price on a Mini. (I didn’t really search too hard. I looked at e-bay, and I checked out the big internet sellers, all the while knowing that I would get it from Chris’s Coffee. I have had such good experience from him in the past that I saw no reason to go elsewhere) I realized that this was not a cheap piece of kit, and something I have not heard of before – a MACAP started coming up in the reviews.

But the MACAP seemed to have a flaw – a stepped grind adjustment. So I asked around, sent Chris an e-mail or two, and he let me know that MACAP was coming up with a stepless adjustment. He recommended it strongly, and I was sold. (having been a salesman for a large part of my career, I love talking to people who love their products. I am an easy mark for passion)

So I ordered a chrome stepless MACAP from Chris, and it arrived in my office yesterday.

SO here is the review part:

The machine was well packed and wrapped, with no transit damage in the box or in the packing material. The box was much taller than it was wide, and I worried a bit about getting it into my car. It was also pretty heavy, but as I not infrequently buy cases of wine on the internet and have them delivered to my office, that was not too much of a problem.

I got the machine home and removed it from the box, putting at the pieces on the counter. It was very easy to assemble, with the hopper fitting into the grinder and then tightening down a set screw. I did not put on the tamper, as I have a Reg Barger tamper in Purple Heart (the short one. It is a great tool). The tray for spilt grounds fits loosely under the grinder, slipping under one of the MACAP’s rubber feet. It is nice to catch coffee that doesn’t make it into the portafilter.

The hopper has a little guillotine that you can use to stop bean flow, but as I only put in the beans I will grind immediately, I removed that. I also removed a finger guard from inside the doser (DO this at your own risk. I don’t recommend you do it at all) so I can sweep out the path between the burrs and the grinder.

The portafilter stand is a nice thick piece of steel that holds the PF nice, but doesn’t collect grounds. The machine is very good looking. There is a lot of shiny chrome on my countertop right now.

The grind control mechanism is an easy to use and intuitive worm gear that is on the back side of the bean hopper. It moves effortlessly, and makes changing the grind a charm. I have not used the Mini, nor have I used the stepped MACAP, so I cannot compare and contrast, I can only offer my impartial analysis of the device, and it is a good one.

I had some old grounds that I wanted to run through the machine before I used my homeroast, and turned the thing on. (It has a rocker switch covered by a clear soft plastic guard.) It hums – a little noisier than the Rocky. I slowly tightened the grind until I could hear the whisper of the burrs kissing, and then backed it off several twists.

Dumping in the beans, I thought that it was taking a long time to grind. I then took these old washed out beans and tried to pull a shot, and the Rituale was chocked. It took so long to grind the beans because I had the grind so fine! I moved it back to what I thought was a more reasonable grind, and the beans just flew through.

After grinding the beans, I take a small brush and clean the chute into the doser. As this is my first day, I don’t have the doser tuned yet to deliver my 17g of coffee (and I probably never will) but the fins sweep the doser much, much cleaner than I have ever seen a Rocky sweep.

I am still tuning the grind, and will post more later, but I wanted to get a first look in for y’all.

The short end of the story is:

This is a big, serious grinder. The stepless mechanism works effortlessly and easily. The grinder is fast, quiet, heavy, and very good looking. It is probably worth a look for anyone who was going to spend money on a top quality grinder.

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